National Association of Broadcasters Chairman Gordon Smith
took aim at cable operators in defense of retrans payments.
That came in his speech to the NAB
convention in Las Vegas Tuesday.
Co-opting broadcast terminology, he called their
channels "cable stations," and said they get paid for their content,
and should get paid. But so should broadcasters, he said, drawing the
parallel."Stations deserve the right to negotiate for compensation of
their programming. And we know that the system works, because thousands of
agreements have been successfully negotiated over the years, with a success
rate of over 99 percent."
The FCC is currently proposing some changes to the system,
over the objections of broadcasters who argue it is working just fine.
"Only a sliver of the negotiations has led to a disruption of
service," he said. "Some pay-TV companies, however, want to pay
nothing or only a pittance for local stations' signals - even though local
content and network programming offered by broadcasters are the ones viewers
Smith said that when he is talking about free TV, he means
free to viewers, "not to multi-billion dollar corporations that sell
subscriptions on the backs of our content."
Smith said that the FCC had "just recently recognized
again that it lacks the authority to intrude on private business
negotiations," and so the issue "is quiet." He was talking in
terms of retrans deals getting done, but the FCC could still make some noise.
The commission has proposed in its rulemaking to get rid of
the network nonduplication and syndicated exclusivity rules, which if it
followed through could hurt TV stations, NAB
"Americans don't like people interfering with their
guns, their faith or their favorite TV show," said Smith. "This issue
will re-surface periodically, and we'll be ready when it does." With
another retrans cycle coming due at the end of this year,
"periodically" could be coming up fast in the mirror.